The Bottom Line

No significant learning occurs without a

Summer is the season of professional learning as educators prepare for the upcoming academic school year. As an adjunct professor, we also spend time together, as a faculty, to reflect on our mission and goals. At our recent meeting, we spent time looking at data. Not grade point averages, not enrollment data, not student demographics data… we looked at student survey data- what students believe about their experience at our university.  Student were asked the following questions:

  1. Do you have a professor who makes learning exciting for you?
  2. Do you have a professor who utilizes assignments and learning activities that challenge you to go deeper and apply your knowledge?
  3. Has one of your professors developed a relationship with you that clearly demonstrates his or her care for you?
  4. Do you have a professor who encourages you to see out, identify, and pursue your calling(s) and passion(s)?
  5. Do you have a professor who has aided your Christian walk and helped you grow in your intimacy and connection with God?

The bottom line- our students want to development relationships with us! They need to feel connected. They need to feel we are invested in their success after we submit final grades each semester.(These are PK-16 need for all learners!) We were each challenged to review our syllabus and learning activities and determine what we are going to change in order to meet the needs of our students. I have always put emphasis on students demonstrating mastery of content through projects and application-based learning activities. However, truly reflecting on these questions, I mean really letting the student responses settle with my soul, I knew I could do more. Here are a few ideas I came up with:

  • Offer time before and after class for open discussion and coaching conversations- a time to discuss academic and personal successes, issues, challenges
  • Spend more time during our first class session to do more community building activities and get to know each other at a deeper level.
  • Have a repertoire of devotional lessons to connect with what students are experiencing.
  • Pray with my students, especially for those that are are experiencing academic or personal challenges.

I am starting year three of teaching at the university level, and I reflect each semester and revamp my syllabus and learning activities. Each group of students bring different experiences to the classroom. My goal is to continue to become a better educator, day by day, book by book, faculty meeting by faculty meeting. I’m all in. I am invested in the success of each learner I touch. This year, my goal is to stay rooted in Christ-centered servant leadership. 2015-2016 will be the best yet!

So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. -Colossians 2:6-7

The Reading Strategies Book

“Effective reading strategies are like my favorite recipes; they teach you how to accomplish something that is not yet automatic in a broken down, step-by-step manner.” – Jennifer Serravallo, The Reading Strategies Book: Your EVERYTHING Guide to Developing Skilled Readers


Jennifer Serravallo created the ultimate book of reading strategies. This resource is a must have for schools with the goal of developing skilled readers! Let me explain in terms of who can benefit:

  • Campus Leadership: Assistant principals usually coordinate the RtI process and instructional intervention plans. This books will help identify and create individual goals for learners, determine the appropriate strategy and give you ideas for intervention lessons. Best of all, these can be implemented IN the classroom setting by the teacher.In my experience as an assistant principal, I often got responses like, “He can’t read. She struggles with reading. He doesn’t try to sound out words. She is not on grade level in reading. He has so many gaps, I don’t know where to start.”  Teachers often have difficulty identify the specifics of the instructional issue. It can be very overwhelming yo determine and prioritize the needs of readers. This book will help teachers:
    • identify specific instructional goals
    • identify guidelines for readers to practice and apply strategies
    • give helpful feedback to move the reader forward
  • Literacy Specialist/Instructional Coach: This resource can help with coaching conversations with individual teachers or grade level teams. Specialists and coaches can use this as a guide for helping teachers identify and prioritize goals for their readers.
  • Classroom Teacher: This is truly a comprehensive book to help teachers develop individual reading goals or goals for reading strategy groups. This a a GREAT resource for reading strategy groups! The lessons in this book can fit into any balanced literacy program.

The book is organized around the following goals for developing skilled readers:

  1. Supporting Pre-Emergent and Emergent Readers
  2. Teaching Reading Engagement: Focus, Stamina, and Building a Reading Life
  3. Supporting Print Work: Increasing Accuracy and Integrating Sources of Information
  4. Teaching Fluency: Reading with Paraphrasing, Intonation, and Automaticity
  5. Supporting Comprehension in Fiction: Understanding Plot and Setting
  6. Supporting Comprehension in Fiction: Thinking About Characters
  7. Supporting Comprehension in Fiction: Understanding Themes and Ideas
  8. Supporting Comprehension in Nonfiction: Determining Maint Topic(s) and Idea(s)
  9. Supporting Comprehension in Nonfiction: Determining Key Details
  10. Supporting Comprehension in Nonfiction: Getting the Most from Text Features
  11. Improving Comprehension in Fiction and Nonfiction: Understanding Vocabulary and Figurative Language
  12. Supporting Students’ Conversations: Speaking, Listening, and Deepening Comprehension
  13. Improving Writing About Reading

Each chapter starts with a research-based explanation of WHY the goal is important to developing skilled readers. Serravallo also gives you suggestions on how to assess students, because it crucial that the strategy matches the child’s goal and the texts they are reading. Strategy lessons include the following (depending on the lesson): Level, Genre/Text Type, Skill, Strategy, Prompts, Teaching Tips, Language Lesson, and Visuals.


I highly recommend this book! You can also see my tweets @lsqualls about this book below. This book is something to get EXCITED about in the world of literacy!

Reading Comprehension

I finally had the opportunity to read Taberski’s Comprehension from the Ground Up today! This learning experience allowed me to reflect on my teaching practices when I was a classroom teacher as well as give me insight on how to continue to develop curriculum that support readers and writers. I’ve decided to share my digital notes from some of my main “take-a-ways”, but I must add- my physical book if filled with hand-written notes, post-it notes, page markers! Great read from a passionate educator! (Click on the image below to access all the notes- enjoy!)

Link to My Digital Notes: Comprehension from the Ground Up


School Culture Rewired

School Culture Rewired: How to Define, Assess, and Transform It
by Steve Gruenert, Todd Whitaker

This book was a great follow up after attending the PLC Conference (Solution Tree) last month. This book provides comprehensive definitions (differentiating between culture and climate), tools for assessing culture and practical applications for identifying how to develop goals and processes to change climate. Here are a few quotes from the book that captured the essence of this book (for me):

Though “culture” is a challenging concept to grasp, the effect it has on everything that happens in a school is absolutely tremendous.

It is critical that you continually remind staff how lucky you all are, how thankful you are, and how fortunate you are to be educators.

Cultural change must be a school-wide movement, not just an individual effort.

When pursuing cultural change, we need to make sure that we always protect the most valuable people in the organization.

“Culture is a holistic, context-bound, and subjective set of attitudes, values, assumptions, and beliefs…what people attend to and how they interpret actions and events are filtered through lenses colored by past experiences” (Kuh & Whitt, 1988, p. 95).

The most important aspect of professional development in any school is the dialogue that teachers engage in afterward.

In an effective culture, members are confident that they can share their professional struggles with anyone else in the culture without invaliding their work.

Being nice to each other is generally a good idea, but it can inhibit the practice of providing feedback in the form of criticism or even an alternative viewpoint.

Collaborating with colleagues grants us “access to expanded knowledge, resources, and creative alternatives for action” (p. 90)—and also reveals any latent weaknesses in our methodology.

The culture of any organization is shaped by the worst behavior the leader is willing to tolerate.

Cultures do not lead; leaders lead. If the culture is leading, then the leader is only managing.

Mission statements don’t matter much; what does matter is the degree to which leadership and faculty are emotionally invested in the mission (Turner, 2013).

Failure provides us with the opportunity to step back and realize that something needs to change. Educators in healthy school cultures understand the power of failure and will actively search for these opportunities even if it means confronting their own disappointments. It is the culture that determines whether failures will constitute steps forward or backward for staff.

The effectiveness of a new culture depends on the strength of the people behind the change and the strength of the pre-existing culture.

Culture is both a survival mechanism and a framework for solving problems.


New adventures are on the horizon! I am looking forward to working with elementary curriculum and instruction this year. As I dive into English Language Arts & Reading (ELAR), I will be using the twitter hashtag #fisdELAR. Join me!


End of Semester Reflections

I love teaching. I love teaching teachers. I love teaching future teachers as an adjunct professor. I truly believe teaching is a calling and being an “educator” and a “learner” are one and the same. Each semester I try to be a better professor than the last. I take student feedback to heart and use it to adjust my curriculum and the way I design their learning experiences. This semester has been one of the best. I am so excited for their future and truly feel they are prepared- spiritually, emotionally, and academically to take on the the second most important job in the world! (The first most important is being a parent- just my opinion).

This semester I had a personal goal of using technology to better communicate with students. I have a detailed syllabus and post weekly course reminders in Blackboard, but they were not as effective as I had hoped. I decided to try a few new tools and they worked marvelously.

  • Movenote– I love this free tool. You capture video of yourself presenting information and you can import slides from Google Drive or your computer. They loved these- mostly because my facial expressions and hand gestures keep it entertaining. They also said it made them feel a little more comfortable with videoing themselves to create similar products for their students.
  • Twitter– I use #dbutech when I tweet anything that I think may be of value. They know they can always search this hashtag to find the latest and greatest resources on edtech.
  • Remind (formerly Remind 101)- 99% of my students will respond to text messaging. Texting is currently their preferred form of communication. I love using this tool to send quick reminders about our meeting locations (classroom or computer lab), inclement weather, or upcoming deadlines when I notice assignments are not being submitted and the deadline is getting near.

I plan on using the tools for the summer semester and I look forward to perfecting the art of communication using these wonderful tech tools. More importantly, I have provided my students with tools and modeled effective, purposeful uses of technology.

Crucial Conversations

Do you have conversations daily that require thought, tact, and intention?  Crucial conversations are interactions that happen every day to everyone – peer to peer, friend to friend, employee to supervisor.  Conversations are crucial when opinions vary, the stakes are high, and emotions are involved.  We often fear that the result of the conversation will make things worse so we avoid talking about the issue altogether.  The key to a tough conversation is to know how to identify your motivation, the other person’s story, and a mutual purpose.  How do you do that? 

Over the past two weeks, I’ve have the opportunity to facilitate Crucial Conversations® training with leaders in my district. We have engaged in rich dialogue about communicating when there are opposing opinions, strong emotions and high stakes. I highly recommend this training for any campus or district administrator or teacher leader. Here the 9 principles and skills of the

  1. Get Unstuck
  2. Start with Heart
  3. Master My Stories
  4. State My Path
  5. Learn to Look
  6. Make it Safe I
  7. Make it Safe II
  8. Explore Other’s Paths
  9. Move to Action

Getting Organized

The beginning of a new year often means setting new goals and establishing new systems for the new year, I have been a long time fan of using Outlook and Google calendar to keep up with personal and professional life events and daily tasks. I have these application on my work computer (PC), home MacBook Air, iPad, and iPhone; which all sync (most of the time). I believe in color coding, but this feature does not sync across devices with Outlook.

I have tried 20-30 apps to help manage my calendar and tasks. However, I haven’t been able to find a true solution for managing everything. I decided to take a step backwards and try a paper-based planner. This will be an experiment, and I may totally revert back to Outlook and my tech tools.

I researched my options and decided to try the Erin Condren Life Planner. I liked the ability to customize the front cover of the planner. I also liked the overall design weekly layout. Here is how I have laid out my planner so far:

  1. This is a brainstorming page that I use to reflect on a university course that I teach. I use post-it notes, for my ideas and tasks and move them out as I complete them.
  2. These are all the supplies I gathered to customize my Life Planner. Visit your local office supply or craft store and find some items to fit your needs and style.
  3. This is a close-up view of my life planner. I chose the Foil Design- Platinum Edition (Charcoal). I took me a few days to decide on the design. I also love the matching elastic band (included) that helps with keeping your planner closed.
  4. This how I color-code the events I write on my planner. I use Staedtler Triplus Fineliner Pens. You can find these at Michael’s or on Amazon. LOVE these pens for my planner and everyday use. I have this little key inserted in the front of my planner. I laminated it and used a coil clip.
  5. This is a sample page from the weekly view, I love using wishi tape and stickers to journal my week. I use the bottom section to write in the topics and scriptures of my daily devotionals- I love that I actually get to look at these everyday. I use the Bible app on my iPad for my daily devotionals- but love that I actually write down the topics and refer back to them when needed.
  6. I printed out important reference sheets from work and taped the to some of the extra pages in the back (professional goals, important calendars, phone lists, etc. I used Avery tabs to identify and section off these pages.
  7. Gratitude Page-  I use post-it notes. I will cycle them out as I add more and will post all of them on a larger board that I keep in my home office.
  8. Exercise Log- I started this before Erin Condren released the Wellness Journal this week. The plan was to simply log my exercise each day.


Visual Notetaking

I‘ve passed the two week vacation mark, which means the ideas are flowing for next year! I had an opportunity to attend the Texas ASCD and the Learning Forward Texas Conferences this month and I learned so much!  I started “visual notetaking” last year after being inspired by the concept of visable learning. The truth is, I have always been a notetaker and an early adopter when it comes to technology. So naturally, I migrated from my meticulous color-coded notes with pens and paper to typing them up on a computer. The iPad was a game-changer for me! I could actually have access to my colored pens and hand-draw on a digital device! I could tweet, email, post and share my notes. How awesome is that?

Well, I have been using the Noteshelf this summer to take “visual” notes and thought I would post some here. Maybe you’ll be inspired to give it a try.

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